Bojack Horseman has gotten its formula down. The fact it wasn’t nominated for a single Emmy defies logic. Over the course of two seasons, the show has toed the line between comedy and drama, showing more depth than most any animated series. Bojack Horseman boasts wonderful writing and incredible performances, with a knack for both visual gags and witty dialogue. This latest season of Bojack Horseman manages to get every character and element back together, matching the high-quality we’ve learned to expect from the show. But don’t think the show is nothing but laughs all around. If this season teaches us anything, it’s to expect Bojack’s self-destructive nature to cause heartbreak at every turn. Even more so that the former seasons, Bojack Horseman leaves no dark corner of its universe unexplored.
The show’s third season came out this Friday, July 22nd, and picked right up from the devastating events of the second season. Now that Bojack has (technically) starred in Secretariat, he’s off promoting the film, vying for an Oscar. Unlike the second season, where Bojack’s struggling to make the movie he wants, he’s now waiting to see how the world will react to this new, serious actor version of him. There are, of course, several hilarious episodic misadventures, such as a trip to New York, crashing a wedding (rehearsal dinner), and dealing with a dead prostitute. There’s also plenty of heartbreak and crushing defeats, for Bojack and everyone in his life, as their lives are tied together in funny, painful ways.
Many of the characters this season got fleshed out in more interesting ways. Obviously, the focus of Bojack Horseman is Bojack, and the show keeps a riveting, razor focus on Bojack as he deals with the fallout from last season. Bojack’s struggle with validation is emphasized, as he deals with his work outside of Horsin’ Around. We learn about his other failed television series, The Bojack Horseman Show, and how his Secretariat role might reinvent him. Princess Carolyn is finally in charge of her own agency, but the season shows her struggling to keep it afloat, while also hoping for a semblance of a good relationship. Diane and Mr. Peanutbutter are still working through their marriage, and Todd’s old girlfriend returns to make him deal with maturity.
While many of the fantastic elements from the past two seasons are present, season three is still distinct. This season, Bojack Horseman takes on more of a continuous narrative, rather than more episodic television. The other two seasons definitely did this to a degree, but season three is almost entirely the same story throughout. It makes the humor-centric episode feel weaker, relying more on serious storytelling. On the flip side, the dramatic plotlines are enhanced, as we see longer stories with more thought-out execution. From Mr. Peanutbutter’s relationship with his brother, to Bojack’s regrets about sleeping with Penny, we get more gravitas from this season. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as the show does do drama well. But it does make the humor seem more hollow, as we know what’s beyond the horizon.
This less humorous approach also changed the way characters function in the show. Season three really lets Amy Sedaris shine as Princess Carolyn, Bojack’s agent and former lover. The season digs more into their past, contextualizing their relationship in a new compelling way. On the other hand, Todd (Aaron Paul) is dropped into more serious, serialized storylines, like his relationship with Emily (Abbi Jacobson) and his new cab agency. The more dramatic plotlines work well for Princess Carolyn, but not so much for Todd. Then there’s Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), who still functions primarily as a lovable joke factory. He does have more to do this season, like his marriage struggles, and his relationship with older brother Captain Peanutbutter (Weird Al Yankovic). But he’s still a comedic character, first and foremost. It’s the reason people love Mr. Peanutbutter, and what made fans love Bojack Horseman in the first place.
The best parts of this season are how we see the people Bojack has broken. Seasons one and two gave us great insight into Bojack’s self-destructive nature, with both comedy and drama. But part of why this season feels more serious is because it’s not just about him anymore. We see how Bojack’s actions actively hurt others, and how his apologies don’t fix anything. Not just with the bigger characters, like Diane or Todd, that we always see hurting. There are many people Bojack has left devastated – like Penny, Sarah Lynn, Kelsey Jannings, and Character Actress Margo Martindale. This season focuses on how sometimes, it’s not always about Bojack, and how this focus tends to blind him. The second-to-last episode, especially, highlights this self-centered view on his actions. Whether or not he feels sorry doesn’t matter – what matters is that it won’t stop until he’s dead.
Most importantly, the third season makes Bojack ask himself what he wants. Finally free of just being the star of Horsin’ Around, he now has decisions to make. He could be the Oscar winner, throwing big parties every night. But part of him also wants a family, or someone who’s there for him as a person/horse. It’s why he goes after a relationship with his new publicist (Angela Bassett), and why he keeps latching on to Princess Carolyn in times of trouble. It’s not a new concept for the show, but it’s explored in better depth this time around.
Overall, Bojack Horseman‘s third season is different than the other two. It’s not a bad thing, by any means, but that difference is evident in every episode. There’s always some deep sadness behind every joke. As much as we want happiness for the leads, they’re not always the good guys. Bojack Horseman doesn’t stop being funny, but now the price is higher. If you’ve seen the previous two seasons, then you know exactly what you’re in store for. The series doesn’t shy away from sadness, but fully embraces both its humor and hopelessness. It’s hard to say what to expect from season four – perhaps it’ll be more gut-busting laughter, or gut-wrenching moments of heartbreak. Or maybe it will be the season where Bojack Horseman finally earns a victory. Until then, he’ll have to keep running – and we’ll be here, anxiously waiting to see what happens.
STAND-OUT PERFORMANCES: Will Arnett, Amy Sedaris, Paul F. Tompkins, Kristen Schall, and Angela Bassett
STAND-OUT EPISODES: “Start Spreading the News,” “Fish Out of Water,” “Old Acquaintances,” and “It’s You”